Priorities for women’s health in India for better economy and quality of life (Divya Bhaskar 5)

The proverb “પહેલું સુખ તે જાતે નર્યા” (true happiness lies in good health) rings true, especially when considering India’s future. Women are the pillars of our families and communities, and their well-being is directly linked to the nation’s prosperity.

The World Health Organization defines health as physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of disease. Just as athletes prepare for a competition, investing in women’s health equips them to thrive in all aspects of life. Even Ravan and the family prayed before going to the war with Ram. For economic growth, if India needs more women to work, they must be healthy, educated and able to manage the family first.

Prioritising women’s health is essential to achieving economic growth and a better quality of life for all. This article explores the current landscape and the importance of addressing these issues for a brighter future (better economy and quality of life).

Unequal Start: Challenges to Young Girls’ Health in India

Despite the 21st century’s dawn, our work reveals a persistent reality: many Indian women experience unequal treatment compared to their male siblings. This often includes:

  • Unequal access to nutritious food: Girls may receive less protein or variety in their diets, impacting their development.
  • Unequal access to healthcare: Girls may receive less medical attention or preventive care than boys. (for perspective, among adults, spending on men’s health is about 1.5 times compared to that on women!)

These factors contribute to a concerning trend: young girls often fail to prioritise their health needs. They also unconsciously learn this behaviour by observing older women in their households.

The consequences are stark:

  • Lower literacy rates: Girls’ education lags behind boys’ by about 10% across various levels.
  • High rates of anaemia in pregnancy: Nearly half of the pregnant women in India are anaemic, impacting their health and their babies.

These “preventable” statistics are a wake-up call. We, as a society, must bridge this health gap. Here’s why it’s crucial:

  • Intergenerational health problems: Young girls with compromised health risk passing those issues on to their children.
  • Childhood trauma’s lasting impact: Our research, based on global work, shows experiences like emotional abuse before 18 can affect adult mental health.

Mothers’ mental health and children: Mothers with mental health issues are more likely to have children with depression. This cycle can continue for generations.

By prioritising girls’ health – physically and mentally – we can break this cycle and create a healthier future for all.

Beyond Motherhood: Unveiling Women’s Health Challenges in India

The tragedy of maternal mortality has historically dominated (e.g. the Taj Mahal story) the narrative of women’s health in India. While progress has been made, with the rate dropping from 556 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 122 in 2017 (still exceeding the global target of less than 70!), a new, alarming trend has emerged.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for young Indian women (15-40 years old). Shockingly, India’s contribution to global female suicides has risen from one in four in 1990 to one in three today. Mental health plays a crucial role in this crisis, with women facing a higher risk of depression than men.

This reality forces us to confront a harsh truth: despite the reverence accorded to goddesses, the well-being of real-life women in our families is often neglected. As mentioned earlier, a mother’s mental health significantly impacts her child’s development. This creates a cycle of neglect that can perpetuate across generations.

Furthermore, poor health, both physical and mental, hinders an individual’s ability to work effectively. Studies reveal that mental health issues can have a far more significant impact on functionality than physical ailments.

It’s time to move beyond the traditional narrative. We must acknowledge the diverse health challenges faced by women at every stage of life, prioritise mental well-being, and prioritise the health of women within our families. Only then can we build a truly healthy and prosperous future for all.